October 1, 2023: 19th Sunday after Trinity

Let us pray: Dear Savior, when we place ourselves under Your tender, loving care, wonderful changes take place in our lives.  Stress is relieved.  Worry fades.  And a profound happiness and contentment fills us.  Submitting to Your mercy is therefore a wonderful blessing.  May we never pull back from such submission or allow the world to redefine it or mock it in our lives.  Amen


TEXT:  Philippians 2: 1-11

Dearly Beloved By Christ: 

         One of the best purchases I ever made at a used book store was: “Emily Post’s Book of Etiquette.”   I’ve only had to use it once during my ministry, but it was well worth the dollar I paid!  I originally bought it for weddings.  Specifically to counteract a headstrong mother of the bride.  People have strong emotions at weddings—particularly the mother of the bride.  And they can interject some strange things into the wedding ceremony.  But if you cite Emily Post on the subject, you can usually prevent a problem from occurring!  No mother wants to breach the standards of etiquette at such a time.

         Over the past 40 odd years I’ve had another wedding issue come up.  It concerns the traditional vows: “To submit to the husband as to the Lord.”  Because of political correctness, people really dislike that word: submit.  Members know what it means in the Christian context and generally they don’t react too strongly to it.  But, more than one bride has expressed concern that her friends attending just won’t go for that loaded word.  So, I have changed the wording on various occasions to: Reverently honor, instead of submit.  That seems to do the trick and it means the same thing in the Christian context.


         Now, all of you know that for Christians “submit” is not a dirty word.  That’s because it always means: lovingly submit, lovingly honor, another.  Thus, submission is never a dirty word when it is done out of love. 

         We all submit in love all the time in our lives.  I’ve submitted to having to get up in the middle of the night to nurse a sick dog back to health.—I did so because I loved and cared for them.  Every mother and father here has done the same with their children.  You put their wants and needs above your own because you love them—even if it happens to be terribly inconvenient for you.  When you go off the work you’re submitting yourself and your time for the good of your family—even if work isn’t much fun and you’d rather be elsewhere.  Wives often submerge their ego for their spouse because they love them.  Husbands do the same.  None of those examples are “bad.”  In fact, they are all good.  So, loving submission is never a dirty word.


         As God’s child, all of you know that the source of such loving submission stems from none other than our Lord Jesus Christ.  Listen again to what St. Paul says about the profundity of who Christ is and what He agreed to do to save us: “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.  Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance of a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross.”

         When He was born, Jesus was already God, true God.  He didn’t have to go out and earn it or work for that status, He possessed it fully.  But instead of openly showing it to the world, He hid it beneath frail flesh.  He became literally a “slave” to our sin and ego, He emptied Himself of ego, and agreed to lovingly die on a cross to save us from ourselves.  This is the height of Christian submission.  This is the depth of Godly love towards each of you.  Was submission a dirty word to Christ?  Obviously not. 

         And what was the result of such submission?  Our salvation, our peace, our hope, our joy, and our life!  “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name above every name.  That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”


         Christian marriage and all Christian relationships should reflect this truth.  As Paul says, even those “under the earth” the demons must acknowledge that God’s love in Christ shines more brightly than anything else.  And it all begins with His submission to the cross to save us and our submission to Him born of that love. 

         Is this great truth predominant in your life?  Are your proud because God’s Son has saved little old you?  Do you seek to show it daily by submitting to His holy will and showing love and compassion to all you meet?  Do you seek to find yourself by losing yourself, your ego, submerging it in His love?  You know that every single sin, everything that makes you feel guilty, has been wiped away and eternally forgiven by Christ’s dying for it on the cross.  Therefore we have no fear as fear stems from non-love, from guilt.  So, now, submitting yourself to His love means a life of guilt-free responsibility towards Him and others.  But if it’s all motivated by love, it’s actually one big huge blessing.  And that’s why every tongue can confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.

         So, next time you’re grumpy at being awakened from a dead sleep by a sick child, or having to put yourself out for another person, submitting to their needs, I want you to remember that fact.  Such loving submission was good enough for Christ when it came to saving your soul.  So, focus on that and then your attitude will be the same as that of Christ Jesus!  Amen


Pastor Thomas H. Fox

September 24, 2023: 18th Sunday after Trinity

Let us pray: Dear Savior, today we thank You for being You, while also giving to us—each other.  Being Your beloved children is a huge blessing beyond compare!  And being able to appreciate and rely upon our fellow Christian siblings is a joy.  Lord, today we thank You for providing direction and guidance and loving motivation to each of us.  Amen


TEXT:  Philippians 2: 1-5

Dearly Beloved By Christ: 

         CHRISTIANS ARE THE BEST!  I’ve uttered those words at various times over the past few years.  And I really mean it.  CHRISTIANS ARE THE BEST! They take both their concern and their love to a whole new level.  When the chips are down, they don’t bail, they don’t walk away, they don’t ignore the needs of others.  No, they give of themselves what they can.  They help as the Lord gives them strength.  And they always, always pray.  Most importantly of all, they do all these things for the right reasons.  Their hearts are pure, their motives are spotless because the love of Christ has been poured into them by the Spirit and now comes gushing forth.  It is during trying times that St. Paul’s injunction in our text: “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus” becomes a living reality for God’s faithful. 


         St. Paul started the church in Philippi.  Remember the jailer of Philippi and how Paul and Silas were freed from his jail by God?  Remember how that fellow came to faith instead of committing suicide?  Remember his question to Paul: “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”  And Paul’s answer: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved!”  The Christians at Philippi were close to Paul.  They literally were his “brothers and sisters in Christ.”  And now he writes to them in order to solidify their closeness even more.  “If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.  Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.  Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.  Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.”  After those words, Paul then goes on to outline the glorious Gospel!  He outlines exactly how Jesus, God’s beloved Son, humbled Himself, took on human sin, died our death and rose from our graves.—All this in our place to save our souls and make us right with God.


         Do you know why Christians Are the Best?  Because they mimic Christ as best they can—for all the right reasons.  Jesus saves us out of pure love.  He gave us faith out of pure love.  His grace, or undeserved love, permeated everything He did, everything He said, and everything He thought.  He didn’t just share a few common emotions with us; He literally lived in our skin and became you and me.  Thus, when Isaiah writes: “Surely He has born our griefs and carried our sorrows” it is 100% true.  And he did it all from a totally loving heart!  He put us first instead of Himself.

         I’ve seen the same thing play itself out in a small way over the past months.  The non-church going friends are genuinely sorry about my tremors, but they are especially relieved they don’t have a similar situation in their own lives.  In short, their compassion is touched a bit by human selfishness.   However, that’s not the case among the Christians!  They want to encourage.  They seek avenues to comfort.  They are filled with tenderness and compassion.  They humbly try to add moral support, verbal support, physical support, and spiritual support at all times.  It’s refreshing and it’s a joy—I can tell you that…..

         Christians are the Best!  Because Jesus Christ has made them the best along with the power of the Spirit.  You can count on believers when you’re down.  That’s the message of Paul today.  And along with that message comes another: let’s all show such unity of love all the time!  Why just reserve it for crisis moments?  So, once more listen to Paul’s words: “If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being likeminded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.  Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.  Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.  Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.”  Amen to that! 


Pastor Thomas H. Fox

September 17, 2023: 17th Sunday after Trinity

Let us pray: Dear Savior, thank You for making Your Church and the force that runs it different than the world.  Thank You for not playing favorites with us or doling out blessings merely on the basis of our external behavior.  Most of all, thank You for sharing Your love and forgiveness with each of us equally—calling all of us with equal seriousness and equal compassion.  In short, dear Lord, thank You for loving us perfectly.  Amen


TEXT:  Matthew 20: 1-16

Dearly Beloved By Christ: 

         Have you ever wished you were someone else?  Many people do fantasize about such things.  Little children play make-believe pirates, princesses, cowboys, or “who-knows-what.”  By the predominance of our celebrity culture, young adult/late teens seem to fantasize about trading places with a favorite cinema heartthrob.  And who hasn’t dreamed of being President, or Ruler-of-the-world for a day, in order to fix everything just right?!    Most fantasy life is harmless.  Some forms of escapism are actually good in that it helps reset your mind.  But, if and when we let envy of another grow and flourish within, thanklessness and ingratitude are the result. 

         One of the things that really excites me about heaven is this: In heaven there will be no envy of another, only perfect love, thankfulness, and joy.  Think about that.  When you hear of someone at work getting an award and a prize for being: “This month’s best employee” just what are your real emotions?  Are you totally happy for them?  Are you 100% focused on how much they deserved it?  Or, does a small part of you, perhaps just for an instant, think: “Well, what about me?  I’ve never received any award.  Don’t I count, too?”    Folks, in heaven all of that will cease to afflict us.  Total perfect joy for each other in every circumstance will be our condition.  Won’t that be exciting?    That’s one of the reasons we could well call it:



         I’ve always really liked this parable.  It’s just so pure, isn’t it?  And in that purity of reward, or perhaps we should say: blessing, the huge heart of God and the perfection of His love is revealed to each of us.  You all know the facts by now.  In fact, let’s put them into today’s language and couple the spiritual meaning along with it at the same time. 

         The longest serving worker bee in God’s Kingdom, in His Church, who is present here today is probably around 90.  Think of that?  For 80 years you’ve helped teach the kids, raise Godly children,  been a great citizen, paid the bills for keeping the family going, the church going, and generally the country going.  You’ve born the heat of the day, the pain of getting older and working hard, the emotional upset that comes with the years.  And now you’re getting closer and closer to finally receiving the blessed reward that  Christ won on the cross for you and promised you when you were baptized.  Heaven is coming soon!  Basking in His perfect love is coming soon!  Then you can say: “Ahhhh” and truly mean it! 

         The rest of you, depending on your age and when you came to saving faith in Jesus Christ, were “hired” like the vineyard workers in our lesson.  Whether you’re a 60 year believer, a 40 year worker, a young adult, a teen, a child, God has promised each of you the exact same blessing and the exact same amount, value, and worth of that blessing: because Christ’s forgiveness = heaven.    Have you teen age Christians done as much hard work at building up God’s Church as some of the elderly here today?  Have you tried to raise Christian children?  Have you paid out money, time, and boatloads of energy to further the salvation of souls?  Of course not.  Every one of you, every one of us, has labored differently for Christ.  But again, at the end of our lives, we all stand to receive the exact same blessed reward: heaven.  Meanwhile, we all are currently receiving the exact same reward right now of a clean conscience and peace with God that comes through Christ sacrificing His very life for ours on a cross.


         Does any envy cross Pinewood’s threshold among you?  Of course it does!  Envy is part of the human condition since the fall.  Envy is a fruit of sin because envy results from pride and self-love in juxtaposition to perfect self-giving love, or grace.    Maybe you don’t say it out loud.  Maybe you don’t dwell on envy-causing situations.  But whenever someone interjects those famous words: “It’s not fair!” into the Church equation, or says: “I’ve done my fair share, let someone else pick up the slack now”—envy is crouching at the door.  And to that, Christ says rather bluntly: “Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? (Read love or forgiveness or heaven here) Or are you envious because I am generous?  So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

         True thankfulness is just that: thankful.  It doesn’t play comparison games.  It doesn’t question God’s way or God’s goodness.  It never tries to foist or project our emotional parameters upon God.  In the end, our lives are between each of us individually and Christ.  His contract with each of you is: believe on Jesus and be saved.  It is: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.”  And in that equation, isn’t it a wonderful, huge blessing that God never interjects favoritism?—For how could you ever be certain you were His favorite?  Is your life so without pain and suffering that you could be 100% certain of that fact?

         No, Heaven is God’s Envy Exclusion Zone.  By His Grace, hopefully we can help turn our church toward better reflecting the envy-free future that awaits.  Meanwhile, we should all (from the oldest believer here to the youngest,  take great comfort in those famous words that God spoke to Isaiah: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord.  ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”     How true and how glorious at the very same time!  Amen


Pastor Thomas H. Fox

September 10, 2023: 16th Sunday after Trinity

Let us pray: Dear Savior, we have come today to beg Your forgiveness for all our many sins against You, and now we have received it.  Now our hearts are cleansed and the weight of our guilt has been removed by You from our shoulders.  Our thanks seems small in view of so great a gift.  Therefore, enlarge our thanks by moving us to practice true forgiveness toward those who sin against us, have come to that realization, and desire to make amends.  Yes, move us to practice the very core of our faith: true forgiveness.  Amen


TEXT:  Matthew 18: 21-35

Fellow Redeemed Sinners: 

         Last week you heard an entire sermon, based on Christ’s words which directly precede this text, in which He lays out the process of how to resolve conflicts among Christians.  At the end of that lesson Jesus tells us that if all our efforts toward leading that person to repentance fail and they continue to hold unto their sin, we need to practice tough love.  We need to bind them in their sins and pronounce Godly judgment upon them.  To do so is to love their soul.  To do otherwise and forgive them anyway cheapens God’s grace.  To do otherwise makes a mockery of repentance.  To do otherwise only confirms in them the idea that their sin really wasn’t a sin at all and God is toothless and impotent and doesn’t really care about them.

         I bring all this up because today many believers have bought into the misconception that repentance isn’t necessary to receive and benefit from genuine forgiveness.  I’ve heard people on the news who have suffered at the hands of rapists, murderers, and thieves say: “Well, I forgive them, it’s the Christian thing to do.”  They say that even though those miscreants are totally unrepentant.  They say that because society seems to think that Christians are patsies who don’t ever want to make a judgment against another.  And I believe that attitude stems from a misreading of the lesson before us this morning.  So, let’s examine this text by considering:



         So, just what is forgiveness?  Is it just a pious sounding concept?  Is it a word we use to somehow let go of emotional hurts that others inflict upon us?  No.  Forgiveness means a sin has been committed against us and against God Almighty.  Forgiveness means that we announce to another that God’s not angry with them any longer and as His disciples, we’re not either!  Forgiveness therefore includes a profound acceptance by all that God has taken away all such human evil by putting it upon Christ Who died for it and because of it.  Thus, forgiveness is the most blessed gift you can give another human being.  It is the greatest work a Christian can do because it encompasses and includes the greatest work ever done: God’s Son dying on a cross and rising from a grave so that we will never have to face eternal destruction.  Yes, true, Christian forgiveness is a far different concept than what society passes off as forgiveness. 

         St. Peter was steeped in Jewish tradition and understanding.  He knew his bible.  Thus, when he asks Jesus: “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?”–When Peter asks that he was thinking about an obscure concept from the Old Testament.  In Amos chapter 1 vs. 3 we read: “This is what the Lord says: ‘For three sins of Damascus, even for four, I will not turn back my wrath.’”  Peter thought, as did most in his day, that if God gives unrepentant people a 2nd chance, so should they.  So, Peter expands on that idea and picks the number 7 as the necessary amount of patience to provide another.  It sounds quite magnanimous.  But,  Peter was wrong!  God certainly has limits on His patience when it comes to uncaring, unrepentant people.  But from what follows we see that God has unlimited patience when it comes to dealing with humans like us who recognize their sins and say they are sorry!  When dealing with repentant people we need to practice forgiveness “77 times” or as some texts convey it: 490 times!  Since no sane human keeps that detailed a scorecard, the point is: when sin is confessed, we forgive on an unlimited basis.  Think of how wonderful that is!  It means that every Sunday morning when you come and confess your sins to God, He will continue to take them away, literally forever!  Indeed, having that burden removed is the main reason we go to church.    


         The parable that follows is meant to teach this truth.  Note well that servant # 1 has a huge debt that is unpayable in modern dollar terms.  His whole family is to be sold into slavery by the King he owes it to and even then, the King will receive back only a fraction of that debt.—Talk about a bad loan!  It dwarfs the modern day mortgage mess.  But, the servant falls on his knees and begs forgiveness, he repents as it were.—“Be patient with me and I will pay back everything.”  Even though such a payback is impossible in this life, the King takes him at his word, is merciful, and forgives the debt.  That’s God when it comes to our confession of sins each week.  He takes us at our word and forgives us in Christ.

         Servant # 2 owes servant # 1 a small debt.  With a little time it is totally payable.  He also begs for forgiveness and tells servant # 1 to be patient with him.  He, too, confesses as to the mess he’s gotten himself into.  But, servant # 1 is anything but forgiving and merciful.  He grabs and chokes the man.  He sends him and his family off to debtors’ prison.  Obviously servant # 1 has learned nothing about genuine repentance and handing out genuine forgiveness.  Obviously he brings forth absolutely no fruits of faith.

         When the king hears of this he is incensed.  Servant # 1 has abused his trust and his kindness.  Servant # 1 is an ingrate.  So, being King, he has servant # 1 hauled before him where the King rescinds his previous words and metes out punishment instead.  And then comes the spiritual kicker: “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.”

         The chief work of Christ was the forgiveness of sins.  The chief work of His followers on planet earth is the same.  As long as someone who has hurt us, sinned against us, asks for forgiveness we are to hand it out to them.  For that is how God treats us every day in Christ.  We may get frustrated when they slide back into the same sin again and again.  Obviously we cannot read their hearts when they say they are sorry and try for a while to make amends.  Nonetheless, since we often act the same way in our relationship with God, we must forgive unless and until such a person turns their back on God by becoming hardened in their sin.

         The one over-arching principal behind such forgiving behavior is: patience.  Recall that patience is a gift of the Holy Spirit.  Thus, patience is part of God’s core being.  And through faith in Christ, patience is given to us to use and employ on a daily basis.  When we do, forgiveness becomes the chief work of a Christian.  For in the end only Godly forgiveness can change a heart and make it humble and accepting of God’s ways.  And as Christ says elsewhere of such grateful people: “He who humbles himself will be exalted.”  Amen


Pastor Thomas H. Fox